Max Bodenheim, Village poet and gadfly

When Mississippi native Maxwell Bodenheim arrived in New York in the 1920s, the talented poet and novelist became the quintessential Village bohemian, hitting up bars, charming the literati, and picking up star-struck chicks. By the 1930s, however, he’d slid into destitution, a bum selling poems for a quarter at the San Remo Cafe and Minetta Tavern.

At left is the cover of his final, posthumously published and ghostwritten book (the actual writer based it on Bodenheim’s drunken ramblings), My Life and Loves in Greenwich Village. Undated photo at right.


Bodenheim hung on in the Village for a few decades, sleeping on benches and doing stints in the drunk tank at Bellevue. He was murdered in 1954, shot in a sleazy hotel at 97 Third Avenue by a dishwasher he’d befriended. His third wife was stabbed to death in the room with him. 

The February 15, 1954 issue of Time had this to say:

“In the 1920s, when he settled down in Greenwich Village, Max hit his bohemian crescendo. A lusty, limpidly handsome man, he attracted women by the scores (at least two of his castoff in amoratas committed suicide). By 1935, Bodenheim was no longer in vogue…he sank gradually into the bleary stupor of the alcoholic.

“At the San Remo Cafe, caricaturist Jake Spencer smashed Bodenheim’s personal gin glass and proposed a toast. ‘Max was a splendid type,’ he said. ‘He used to write poetry in a booth here and then try to peddle the verse at the bar for a drink of gin.'”

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4 Responses to “Max Bodenheim, Village poet and gadfly”

  1. “The Life Cafeteria” « Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] the “arrestaurant” by Village poet Max Bodenheim because of the unsavory characters who frequented the place, Life Cafeteria attracted bohemians, […]

  2. Josie Says:

    Upon reports of their terrible deaths, Dorothy Day wrote an interesting and tender account of the last year or so of the Bodenheims’ lives, during which time they came to live for a time on two of the Catholic Worker farms, one in Newburgh NY and then the one on Staten Island NY. Dorothy had known Max back in the day. Here is the URL:

  3. The 1940s “poetry mender” of Greenwich Village | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] his death, his students—among them Max Bodenheim (at right, in the 1950s)—paid tribute to Romatka at the chapel at Bellevue Hospital and then by his grave in New […]

  4. Solving the mystery of a Brooklyn cafeteria ghost sign | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] also figures into the backstory of a writer’s sordid death in the 1950s. Poet, gadfly, and Greenwich Village character Maxwell Bodenheim met with a literary agent at a Waldorf on Park Avenue and 25th Street the day before he was found […]

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